Thursday, 1 December 2016

Pump Up The Volume: Xmas Drinking Songs

So let's cut to the chase: I'm talking about songs with the word wine in the title and which contain numerous references to that drink, such that I can play them festively over the Christmas period in order to get me through that particular nightmare. That's all I'm interested in. No, not quite - Days Of Wine And Roses, for instance, the Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer classic, is a great tune in its way, but not what I'm after. Ditto Little Old Wine Drinker Me - sung by Dean Martin, it passes the time and there's never a good reason not to listen to Dean Martin, but all the same: it's too effortless, it lacks urgency. To say nothing of Paul Anka's A Steel Guitar And A Glass Of Wine. Or, for that matter, UB40's take on Neil Diamond's Red Red Wine. No, in these troubled times I need something up, something elemental. And these are my top six up, elemental, wine songs. Or seven.

Wine Woogie - a tearaway 1952 r'n'b swinger from Marvin Phillips & His Men From Mars, jam-packed with sax and containing the line I can drink wine, baby, like no-one else can, a commitment we can all, I think, relate to. Likewise the legendary Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson with their magesterial Wine-O-Baby Boogie from 1949. First thing Big Joe says is When you see me sleeping, baby, please don't think I'm drunk. About the last thing is Better stop stealing my money baby, and buying that bad green wine. There you have it: the human condition in the space of two and a half minutes, and when Big Joe puts it down, you better get hip and pick up on it.

Something more recent? I'm going to go wide and choose PassThe Wine (Sophia Loren) an out-take-that-made-it from The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street of 1972. If you can stand Mick's cheesy Americanisms, this boils down to Pass the wine, baby, and let's make some love, all things being equal in an imperfect universe. Is it that close to being one of The Stone's more half-assed numbers? Yes, but I like to think there's enough horn section and sassy female backing singers in the mix to get it across the line into sheer dumb good-time listenability.

No doubts, however, about Drinkin' Wine Spo-dee-o-dee, in all its manifestations. This hymn to excess, with its half-gallons of cheap red wine, its references to constant fistfights and wanton destruction of property, its New Orleans setting, has everything the lifelong wine drinker needs to celebrate his or her favourite beverage. So many great versions to choose from, but I'm going to stick with Winehead Swing by James 'Smokestack' Tisdom (1950). This begins with him yelling Aw, you winehead fool and Gimme a drink so I can play this thing and spreads outwards from there, with the assistance of James's intense guitar work and a harmonica player in the last throes of delerium. The YouTube version's a bit fuzzy, but it gives you a sense. Him, or The Sugar Creek Trio. I have a feeling the trio aren't playing these days, but a couple of years ago they were hardcore Rockabilly madmen of the most uncompromising kind, playing both Las Vegas and the greater Oxford region. Their take on Drinkin' Wine defies you to sit still for longer than five seconds, if at all. Drinkin' that mess with delight is the essence of the encounter and the guitar player is on fire. Stick this on while you're basting the turkey and everything is going to turn out fine. Oh, and I'm going to capriciously throw in The Moonglows' Hey Santa Claus, just because it's so good - and, yes, I know, it doesn't use the word wine once.

To calm down? The conversation-stoppingly lachrymose Tears And Wine from Dusty Brooks & His Tones, recorded in 1953. Tears and wine to help forget, they groan, because laughter and love are uneasy bedfellows at the best of times and if you can't be depressed at Christmas, when can you? Equally, if you're like PK and your Christmas is spent wearing a quilted smoking jacket and an Edward VII beard while inhabiting a world where certain timeless verities apply whatever else is going on outside, then you might decide to celebrate your largely insane otherness with, say, The End Of Me Old Cigar, the Harry Champion music-hall classic. Not wine, no, but a related activity, and I'm going to include it. You can get Harry himself performing the song, but I've got to confess to a partiality for the version by the great Adge Cutler & The Wurzels. This is, in fact, what PK listens to non-stop from Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day; and it pretty much captures the essence of the man. Seriously, it does.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Christmas: claret, crackers and candles – Roc de Lussac

Christmas is coming, in case you hadn’t noticed, and the weight of tradition weighs heavily upon the wine selection. We have just one day a year in which we can relive Dickensian England, by eating old-fashioned food, going a-wassailing, and sending the children up the chimney.

Inevitably, the same desire to step back into the past must apply to our choice of wine.  Don’t tell me it’s all about taste, because even if it tastes fabulous, when Mum, Gran and Auntie Janet are all coming to Christmas dinner you’re hardly likely to put out a bottle of Sexy Wine Bomb. Having a wine which looks suitably old and grand is as key to the Christmas table as candles and crackers. Even if you can’t actually afford it.

But that’s where Messrs Sainsbury have come to help, with this magnificent-looking bottle of wine, retailing for the princely sum of just £7. That’s from its formerly ducal price of £9.

I mean, just look at that label. The generations of winemaking encapsulated in that traditional typeface. The touches of gilt. The crest, with its crown and lions regardant. This is clearly one classy product, with no pictures of falling leaves or bare footprints. Surely the kind of thing one could put proudly upon one’s dining table to project an image of history and tradition.

No picture of the chateau, mind you. Fair enough, there are several grands crus which don’t depict their chateau. But there’s no actual mention of a chateau here, either. Or, for that matter, of a grand cru. Still, they do proudly declare on line two of the label, which should be enough for most Sainsbury shoppers to pick it up with confidence, that Roc de Lussac is a marque deposée. Or ‘trademark’.

And it’s a Grand Vin de Bordeaux! A Grand Vin! That’ll impress the Christmas crowd. Well, those who don’t know that it carries no actual classification weight whatsoever, and is a non-specific suggestion of quality, rather like a pint of best, Tesco Finest or Greatest Hits.

Saint-Emilion, though, eh? Everyone’s heard of Saint-Emilion, even CJ. Unfortunately, this is Lussac Saint-Emilion, which is five or six miles from Saint-Emilion itself. Like visiting Abingdon and then saying you’ve been to Oxford.

But at least it’s recommended. And a recommendation of such significance that it’s actually printed on the label. Like printing a good review on a book jacket. Recommandé par Damien Dupont, no less.

Sorry? Who?

You know, Damien Dupont. Chef Sommelier France. What, the chief sommelier of the entire country? Head of all sommeliers in France?

This is hard to verify, as my trusty friend Google seems unable to find Damien Dupont, in his prestigious position as Chef Sommelier France, among the various project managers and trainee psychotherapists who share his name. Perhaps he is a chef sommelier, in a restaurant somewhere in France, a sort of rural wine waiter. In fact the only other wine reference I can find to Damien Dupont is on the label recommending another Bordeaux wine, with the remarkably similar name of Roc de Chevaliers, from the remarkably similarly named producer, Producta Vignobles.

(In fact, Producta Vignobles market eight wines with Roc in their title. “The name ‘roc’” they explain on their corporate website, “gives an impression of solidity, balance and heritage.” Hope you got that impression too.)

I have to say that my own judgment differs from that of Damien Dupont. Considerably. After a brief initial burst, the bouquet of this wine becomes thin and woody, rather like the cardboard from a new shirt. On the palate there’s a marked absence of any of the flavour you might associate with wine, such as fruit, leaving only a nasty bitter taste more like chewing old citrus pith. And finally a belt of acid and alcohol as if the product is better suited to some kind of vehicle maintenance.

Look, you can listen to Damien Dupont, or listen to me. I can recommend this too, along with other festive non-consumables like crackers and candles, as something that would grace any Christmas dinner table. Just as long as you don’t drink it.


Thursday, 17 November 2016

Inycon Nero d'Avola, Frappato + Braun Blender = 75% Success, Claims London Man

So everyone's talking about hyper-decanting these days: this guy, for instance; or this snippet in The Independent. And some others. What is hyper-decanting, if you didn't already know? 'Thanks to this genius 30-second hack,' claims The Indie, 'you can now turn your cheap plonk into seriously fine wine. If you’re a vino lover who can’t necessarily afford the good stuff - or you just can’t stand parting with your cash - at some point you’ve probably had to ask yourself whether that vintage bottle is really worth it. But now you don’t have to. Instead, put your bargain bottle in the blender. Seriously.'

Well, I know I'm a vino lover who can't necessarily or even sporadically afford the good stuff, so this is pushing at an open door. And the concept is so easy to grasp: you take your cheap muck and blitz it for five to ten seconds in a kitchen blender; at the end of which you have something which tastes like mid-range muck. Perfection!

What next? I almost literally run out of the house in order to acquire a bottle of one of Waitrose's very worst red wines, their Inycon Nero d'Avola/Frappato mash-up, which I've mistakenly drunk before and know to be horrible. The mere thought of inflicting damage on this stuff is quite bracing enough, but if I can get a drink out of it at the end, then this really will have been a good day. Back the awful bottle comes and I set up my tasting: one glass of untouched Inycon, left to settle for a minute or so; one glass of Inycon, blitzed for five seconds in a Braun blender which I think we last used to make pancake batter, but which I concientiously wipe out with a kitchen spongecloth; one glass of Inycon blitzed with a hand blender in a jug for five seconds, this hand blender normally a thing for making soups but clean enough to the naked, credulous, eye.

The result?

Straight Inycon: some cabbage-water in the nose, followed by a sensation of worn felt under the tongue and a slight irritation in the cheeks. Finally a coda of spent safety matches. About par for the course with this particular wine: no real gratification at all.

Inycon in the blender: no nose to speak of, but a much more integrated effect on the palate, with something like raspberry going on plus a bit of acidity and a whoof of cardboard to finish. Not bad, in other words; also a terrific process to watch, with a welter of inky red juice in the blender jug, subsiding to a heaving scarlet foam. Real splatter-movie visuals and well worth the effort of finding the blender in the first place, buried as it was behind an archipelago of tiny jamjars and a salad spinner.

Inycon done over with the hand blender: a touch of stale shirt in the nose, a bigger delivery of fruit thereafter, cardboard and nuts in the finish, actually a more impactful experience than the Inycon blizted in the standup blender. Which I take to be a good thing, if an oversized fruity blast is what you want. What I don't understand, though, is why the hand blender experience should be a discernible improvement over that of the standup blender - until it occurs to me that the spongecloth I wiped out the blender jug with had previously been steeped in Flash kitchen cleaner (with bleach), enough, maybe, to denature the end product. Although, let's face it, if Inycon Nero d'Avola/Frappato can withstand an assault by both bleach and blender, it's less a wine and more of a DIY product; and I think there could be some useful crossover synergy there.

Would I go through this absurd ritual again? You know, if the blender wasn't stuck in the back of the cupboard I think I might. I can see a routine developing, in which the crack of the screwtop is more often than not followed by the roar of the blender and the steady glug of the foul beverage being funelled back into the bottle. Clearly, at no point is it transformed from bargain to vintage, but that's all right. People who operate at my level of delusional wretchedness can't afford to be picky about these things, and if this is where wine meets slashing, spinning blades and comes out ahead, then perhaps 2016 will not end as the complete disaster it has been so far.